Determining the distribution of the Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis, YFP) in the Yangtze River has to date relied on traditional visual and counting methods, but such field surveys are time-consuming and expensive. Analyses using environmental DNA (eDNA) to investigate the presence and range of endangered aquatic species have proven to be more economical and effective detection methods, and are a non-invasive approach to sampling. A challenge of relying on eDNA for YFP monitoring is that the Yangtze River is characterized by high turbidity and a strong current. Here, we used an eDNA-based approach to estimate the presence of YFP at 18 sites in the Yangtze River in August 2017 and at an additional 11 sites in January 2018. At each sampling site, we filtered six 1 L water samples with 5 µm pore size filter paper and quantified the amount of YFP eDNA in each water sample using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). In addition, YFP eDNA was successfully detected in locations where we visually observed YFP, as well as in locations where YFP were not observed directly. We found that our eDNA-based method had higher detection rates than traditional field survey methods. Although YFP was visually observed in the Yangtze River in winter, water samples collected during the summer contained significantly higher YFP eDNA than winter water samples. Our results demonstrate the potential effectiveness of eDNA detection methods in determining the distribution of YFP in the Yangtze River.